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How long do customers spend in your restaurant? Do you know? And does it matter?

The amount of time customers spend in a store is called "dwell time" and it's a key performance indicator (KPI) for any brick-and-mortar business. Dwell time is related to several important metrics like customer satisfaction, shopping experience, and even sales.

Measuring dwell time can give important insight into your restaurant's performance. This metric can also reveal potential areas for improvement and growth. But the most significant measurement restaurant owners should be aware of is the impact of dwell time on sales volume.

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How Does Dwell Time Impact Sales?

According to a study by PathIntelligence, increasing dwell time by just 1 percent leads to an average 1.3 percent increase in sales. Although 1 percent may not sound like much, let's take a look at how those numbers look in concrete terms.

For this example, let's say the average customer spends 60 minutes at your restaurant and spends an average of $30 per table. If you encourage customers to stay only 6 minutes longer, they'll spend an average of $3.90 more at your business.

Six minutes isn't long if you're sitting down for a meal, so as long as your customers aren't strictly bound by time limits like a lunch hour, increasing dwell time to increase sales is perfectly feasible. As customers spend more time at the table, they're more likely to order additional items like coffees, drinks, and desserts.

Of course, the study acknowledges that sales and dwell time change based on external factors like holidays or the weather, which are out of your control, and internal factors like store promotions, which you control fully.

What Influences Dwell Time?

Longer dwell time at your store reflects higher customer satisfaction. There are dozens of factors that may contribute to satisfaction at a restaurant, but it's easiest to identify areas that might drive customers away faster. Factors that decrease dwell time include:

  • Poor or slow service
  • Dissatisfaction with menu items
  • Difficulty finding what a customer wants
  • Unreasonable prices
  • Unclean store or bathroom conditions
  • Music played too loudly or not suited to customer's tastes
  • Overwhelming advertisements or decor

Nothing about your restaurant should feel abrasive or uncomfortable to customers, from decor that's too bright or music played too loud. Customers should be able to navigate your menus easily and ask questions to a readily available server. Although all the factors listed can encourage or discourage a customer from staying, poor service is the most common reason consumers leave stores more quickly.

Ideally, you should strive to encourage customers to browse, rather than make a quick stop. The longer customers spend in a location, the greater the chance of impulse purchases.

But beware of measuring dwell time blindly. Longer time spent in your restaurant due to slow service will have a negative effect on sales and customer satisfaction.

How Do I Increase Dwell Time at My Restaurant?

To increase positive dwell time, evaluate your restaurant and ask for customer feedback. Nothing can substitute for direct customer feedback. If you can't get in-person feedback from customers, the next best option is online reviews. Today online feedback is easier than ever to find, so be sure to monitor what customers say about your business and address complaints, especially if they are mentioned by more than one person.

Using tracking methods like Wi-Fi analytics, you can also determine where customers spend the most time in your restaurant, which days of the week encourage longer visits or which months are your busiest.

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Dwell time may not sound significant, but it has a direct relationship to sales and clues you into levels of customer satisfaction. With all the data you can choose to track, don't forget to consider how long customers actually spend at your restaurant.  

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